A Tree With Roots

in Seniors Today, Nov 1998 Issue 4

by Amber Harvey, MA (Counselling)


Are you moving? Did someone you love die? Have you lost your job? Do you find you can no longer bend down and touch your toes? How do you handle change? Everyone is faced with changes, big and small, over which they have little or no control. You have a child; a parent dies; a good friend moves away. Even smaller changes, like the re-routing of your bus, the renovation of your bank, or the twice-yearly time change, may shake you up.

When significant reversals come your way, you’re in a time of transition. Depending on how you meet them, these transitions may actually strengthen and deepen you. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.”  

In his book TRANSITIONS, William Bridges defines three stages in the transition process. First, you have an ending, then a time of feeling unsettled which he calls the “neutral zone,” and finally, a new beginning.  

Say farewell to the past. Take your time and savour this. People so often omit this step because they’re afraid it means they’re living in the past. Not so. Honour what has been. It was part of what made you, you. It’s like looking back to childhood, in a way. As a child you were just right for the situation, and your memories can bring feelings of love for the person you once were.  

Bridges’ “neutral zone” can feel like an empty time, or a time of confusion. You’re searching for a new way to be yourself. All your old ways of being may not work anymore. But this neutral zone is also a place where new ideas can begin, like adolescence, when you were confused, unsure of yourself, but learned how to give up being a child and become an adult.  

Face the new situation, with your new ways of responding to it. The new you is able to deal with the changes that have taken place. As an adult, you’ve given up responding like a child. Tantrums and tears don’t usually work anymore. You found adult ways of responding. Changes are mevita- ble, and how you meet them is up to you.  

The word CHANGE spells out some characteristics everyone can benefit from: C is for Courage, H is for Health, A is for Attitude, N is for Negativity (facing it), and E is for Education.  

A new kind of courage is needed when major changes take place. It’s the courage to endure, to hold on a little longer, to keep your head, to be unflappable when everyone else is frantic. If the old courage required you to be a warrior, you now need the courage of a mother giving birth. It requires patience and a certain amount of faith in the outcome.

Especially during transitions, when stresses are greatest, you need to watch your health. Diet, exercise, rest, and positive thought patterns that have kept you strong in the past will be even more important. If you usually have a coffee break, maybe now you should switch to decaf, or add a piece of fruit or a muffin. Instead of watching th€ news before bed, try listening to music or reading a humorous book. Take a walk after dinner in- stead of having a cigarette. Get temporary help with your housework.  

Attitude is what makes anything an adventure instead of an ordeal. When a friend’s hair started to turn grey, she saw it as an opportunity to wear new and exciting colours. She thought she couldn’t wear red, but now she looks great in her new crimson jacket. Expect and embrace change. Welcome the opportunity to grow.

Negativity? Do you need this? Change is hard, let’s be honest. There are things to hate about it. Your life has been turned up side down. Admit it. Tell a friend about it. Write down all your negative thoughts. Then leave them behind you. Negativity is a place to visit, not to live.

Gratitude is like magic. As soon as you turn your focus on someone else, you start to feel better. When you go through a life change, you seldom do it alone. Who listened to you? Who brought you casserole? Who called to see how you were doing. Who went walking with you? Appreciate the helpers in your life. Give something back.

A phone call or a card in the mail will show your thanks, and help you remember that you have something to give.

What about Education? So often changes are difficult because you didn’t know what to expect. What if you had known what was ahead? If someone had told you where you could buy the best medical supplies, who to call about putting together a resume, which realtor worked for them, would your transition have been easier? Now that you’ve gone through this adjustment, can you talk to a friend about it? Reading a book on child rearing doesn’t really prepare you for it, but it gives you a few tools to work with. If you’ve found a solution tell someone about it. It might help them some day.

Changes are inevitable. The way you face them is up to you. Take your time. Honour the process. Enjoy being the new you.  

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